CHARLOTTE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — The confusion continues with the Charlotte Area Transit System. Words are flying back and forth between former leaders and current leaders about who is to blame for the mismanagement of CATS. 

Some Charlotte City Council members are having a strong reaction to quotes in a published interview with the man who spent seven years in charge of Charlotte’s buses and light rails. Former CEO John Lewis says a lot of concerns that led to problems within the agency were out of his control.  

In response, Charlotte City Councilmember Tariq Bokhari tweeted Pinocchio, the Disney character known for lying. 

“Every time I sat down with him to go through all kinds of different issues or problems, it was always someone else’s fault,” Bokhari said. “I learned that trend over time to where I ended up drawing a conclusion, a conclusion, not quickly over the years of working with him, that he’s a habitual liar.” 

Lewis is quoted in the Charlotte Observer for the first time since stepping down as the leader of public transit in Charlotte. Lewis says, “There are two things that are the absolute lifeblood of the agency: people and materials. To have that taken away from you and not being controlled really became what’s the beginning of the problem.” 

Lewis continued by citing specific items he says he needed city approval to purchase to keep up bus operations saying in part: “All of those questions about our ability to deliver service, a lot of it falls back to things I need. I need people and I need parts. And none of those were really under my authority.” 

Lewis stepped down as leader in November 2022. During his leadership, the City Lynx Blue Line derailed in May of 2022. It was publicly announced in March of 2023, months after he resigned. The delayed announcement heightened concerns of a lack of transparency within the agency. Lewis also faced backlash for his COVID response, staffing shortages, and concerns about operator safety after bus driver Ethan Rivera was shot and killed on the job. 

“The City Manager called for an independent investigator. That between us seeing the audits, these problems arising all the sudden, I think he was within months of being fired,” Bokhari said. “He saw the writing on the wall, and he saw that he was in big trouble. That’s when he decided to depart on his own.” 

CATS is now under the leadership of interim CEO Brent Cagle. The management company in charge of hiring operators, RATP Dev sent an internal memo shared exclusively with Queen City News. The memo warned employees that service cuts could be on the way because at least 23 drivers are in hot water for attendance. Operators we spoke to say safety remains a top concern for workers. Councilman Bokhari serves on a committee of city council members currently investigating the agency. 

“We are providing oversight for a comprehensive operational risk assessment, we’re going through the entire world over there,” Bokhari said. “I’m confident there’s other stuff in there in this culture of non-transparency that [Lewis] created, that we’re gonna have to find, we’re gonna have to fix and we’re gonna have to be transparent with the community about it.” 

John Lewis is now a transit consultant. He provided the following response to Bokhari’s statements:

“People with little to say often compensate by being the loudest voice in the room,” he told Queen City News. “Bokhari is entitled to his opinion but he isn’t entitled to his own facts. I provided the Observer and Axios with facts and documents to support those facts.”